Few things can impact a blogger as negatively as their own workspace.  Even with the best of intentions, writing an article in one tab of your browser and fact checking in another can lead to a few quick emails, a twitter update, checking out Facebook — the next thing you know you’ve been reading articles on digg for an hour.  Our productivity tools often lead us to being anything but productive.  This was a trap I found myself falling into more and more as they days went on.  Then I discovered the secret world of minimalist word processing.

What is minimalist word processing?

Minimalist word processing is, at a glance, not unlike taking a time machine back to the 1980’s.  Full screen text editors that allow for zero distraction, both WriteRoom and JDarkRoom offer nothing more in terms of visuals than text on background.  Removing the dock, the taskbar, and any other feature that would make your desktop recognizable, these apps will give you zero reason to start clicking elsewhere and lose yourself to all of your other daily tasking.  But how can two such simple programs really differ?

WriteRoom, Hog Bay Software, $24.95

WriteRoom has the distinction of being the granddaddy of distraction free writing software.  Inspired by the early days of wordprocessing, WriteRoom was the first program available to offer a minimalist approach to your writing environment. Starting out with green text on a black background, you can dive right in and get to work or tweak to your hearts content.

Both font and color scheme can be changed to your liking.  Tapping Escape will bring you back to your desktop with a basic text version of you document displayed in a window.  That window can be tweaked to display relevant information like word and page counts.  You can even add a plug-in that will add an “edit in Writeroom” option in the Edit Menu of other applications.

On the downside, being first on the block and offering a solid set of features also means that you can set your own price.  WriteRoom is currently available for the surprisingly steep price point of $24.95, with a free 30-day trial of the full version also available for download.

Grade: A-

JDarkRoom, Code Alchemists, FREE

The release of JDarkRoom owes a lot to it’s predecessor.  JDarkRoom is the Java-based alternative to DarkRoom, a Windows-only WriteRoom clone that ran on the .NET framework.  Looking for something that worked outside of .NET, the coder behind JDarkRoom inadvertantly created a program that could work across all three major OS’s (Windows, Mac, Linux).  That’s how I first came across this — looking for a WriteRoom alternative for my Windows-box.  And on Windows, it performs exactly as you’d want it to.  But on the Mac?

It appears the free alternative to WriteRoom is a glitchy mess.  The first thing you see when firing up JDarkRoom is a message letting you know Command-SHIFT should bring up the help menu.  It doesn’t.  Having experience with the Windows version, I tried F5.  That worked.  Getting out of the help menu though?  Impossible.  It treats the help menu like it a document you want to modify.  You’ll need to quit the program to get out of it, thereby losing any work you may have done to that point.  Many of the commands in the help menu, such as accessing the options screen, line and word count, or inserting the date and time either work sporadically or don’t work at all.  As well, I wasn’t able to ALT-TAB out to other programs, as JDarkRoom continued to block my desktop when I tried.

The bare bones of the program, writing and saving files, works fine.  Anything beyond that is a disaster.  While the  entire idea behind minimalist word processing is to do nothing more than write, there are some basic tweaks and commands that are required to make that experience complete, and they just can’t be relied upon in the Mac version of jDarkRoom.  If this were this Windows version it would get a stellar A+ grade.  But it’s not.

Grade: D

Conclusion

What we had expected to be comparing were two programs with a nigh-indistinguishable set of features.  Unfortunately jDarkRoom couldn’t live up to the promise.  While the Windows version offers a solid alternative, that’s just not something that’s going to be of much use to our readership.  WriteRoom offers a complete set of features, a bug free experience, and the quiet solace you’re looking for when writing. The $24.95 price tag may be less than attractive, but after trying the 30-day free trial you’ll be hard pressed to go back to the days of desktop distraction.

Recommendation: WriteRoom